[PROPOSAL][DRAFT] Validator Commons: improving validator governance and leadership

Hi Cosmos, I’m Josh, one of the leaders of the Validator Commons. We’ve been active in Cosmos for a while now, and would love some feedback on this proposal to help get the project funded and staffed!

Summary

  • The Validator Commons is a nonprofit coalition of validators working to improve validator governance and foster validator leadership through experiments like town hall debates, proposal juries, and tooling co-ops
  • We’re asking for 3000 ATOM to help fund a full-time community organizer and research staff to support the validators already working in the Commons
  • We’re asking the same of Juno, Osmosis, Evmos and other participating chains

About the Validator Commons

The Validator Commons began as an effort by representatives from validators and non-profit organizations like Metagov to define technical standards and best-practices in proof-of-stake governance in response to a big list of problems that we felt were holding back validator governance. In particular, we believe that validators themselves need to be the ones researching, implementing, and taking responsibility for improvements to the validator ecosystem—and they need to be able to do this without always looking to foundations and founding teams for support.

Since launching at Consensus 2022, we’ve (1) created a shared vision in the Commons declaration, (2) developed several versions of a governance participation assessment for validators, (3) organized well-attended validator workshops at Consensus, Nebular, Cosmoverse, Staking Summit, and (4) piloted new validator-support systems including proposal juries, town halls, notably on ATOM 2.0, validator-led peer review, and a tooling/research pool. Our members have also produced several pieces of research related to PoS governance, ranging from groundwork toward a Juno constitution to decision frameworks for evaluating proposals to studies of belief and ideology in crypto.

Mission

  • to improve validator governance
  • to foster validator leadership
  • to improve the governance of proof-of-stake blockchains

Team

The Validator Commons is a membership-based body open to all validators. Our team is subject to change and growth based on our evolving membership.

Governance

Funding will be used to support a community organizer and dedicated research staff. To prevent conflicts-of-interest in spending and to ensure that spending benefits all validators (and not just the most active participants of the Commons), all fund expenses will be governed by Metagov, a 501c3 nonprofit in the US dedicated to supporting digital governance.

Details

The Validator Commons is a non-profit coalition of aligned validators and allies. We believe that governance matters. This grant will help support three concrete activities of the Commons:

  1. Community Organizing. Intended to increase the quality and quantity of validator participation in governance, including
    1. proposal juries to save validators time, enable validator specialization, and improve proposal quality
    2. a peer review system to evaluate the governance participation of validators within the Commons
    3. a tooling co-op to support sharing of in-house tools and research developed by Commons members,
  2. Policy Research. Focused on generating discrete proposals to improve governance within specific PoS chains, including one fully-developed proposals specific to each participating chain, and
  3. In-Person Workshops. To build community, educate validators, and explore the future of PoS governance.

Deliverables

To ensure transparency and build trust, we will publish a progress report in 6 and 12 months so that the Cosmos community can better understand how funds have been spent and can evaluate the return on its investment. The report will be posted to this forum.

Full deliverables, budget, timelines, team bios, and FAQ can be found on the (much longer) full grant.

Amount

3000 ATOM, corresponding to approximately $30,000 USD.

Governance votes

The following items summarize the voting options and what it means for this proposal:

YES - you believe that validator governance and validator leadership are important and thus wish to fund the Validator Commons work to improve them
NO - you don’t believe that validator governance or leadership is important and thus do not agree to fund the Commons
NO WITH VETO - A ‘NoWithVeto’ vote indicates a proposal either (1) is deemed to be spam, i.e., irrelevant to Cosmos Hub, (2) disproportionately infringes on minority interests, or (3) violates or encourages violation of the rules of engagement as currently set out by Cosmos Hub governance. If the number of ‘NoWithVeto’ votes is greater than a third of total votes, the proposal is rejected and the deposits are burned.
ABSTAIN - You wish to contribute to quorum but you formally decline to vote either for or against the proposal.

5 Likes

this is one is conflicting. it makes sense, but it sounds like voting to fund a cosmos version of ALEC

Interesting comparison, I had to look ALEC up! I was thinking more something like the Federalists or Anti-Federalists (i.e. pre-constitutional “parties”), since so much of the agenda+mission for the Commons is about building up governance infrastructure as opposed to “policy”, per se.

The risk in the cosmos seems to be centered around validator centralization, cartels, and consortiums. my concerns lie with the validator centric fiduciary relationship rather than a delegator centric fiduciary responsibility

The risk in the cosmos seems to be centered around validator centralization, cartels, and consortiums.

I think many of the validators who have chosen to get involved in the Commons believe that more coordination and participation among the validator set is necessary to counter de facto centralization of expertise and decision-making within core teams and foundations. I’ve also included a longer answer on whether the Commons encourages centralization or decentralization below.

my concerns lie with the validator centric fiduciary relationship rather than a delegator centric fiduciary responsibility

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you’re saying that the fact that the Commons has a direct responsibility to validators rather than to delegators could be a problem. That’s a good point. However, the Commons is an open membership organized around shared values, and we’re open to non-validators as well—indeed, even today not all members of the Commons are solely validators. But for bootstrapping purposes the Commons is geared toward organizing validators, not delegators. Tackling the latter and getting delegator engagement is a really, really hard problem that the entire blockchain ecosystem is struggling with.

Longer answer on centralizing vs. decentralizing below, copied from our grant FAQ:

Are we centralizing or decentralizing?
The Validator Commons is a coalition of validators (we’ve sometimes described ourselves as a “political party”), but many people believe that any coordination between validators amounts to a form of collusion and thus a form of centralization. We disagree:

  • The status quo is more centralized. If you want opaque, centralized decision-making that hides behind a curtain of “decentralized infrastructure”, then keep things as they are. If you want a system where passing a proposal means first passing it by a foundation or core team member, then keep things as they are. We want validator-driven governance to be more than just rhetoric.
  • We bring existing coordination out into the open. We call ourselves a “political party” because we want to be upfront with our values, our processes, and what we’re trying to accomplish. Validators already coordinate. By building an institution dedicated to fostering this coordination, at least we can bring these practices out into the open.
  • Leadership requires coordination. To serve as a check on and complement to foundations and core teams, validators need to work together. Building capacity and leadership requires work and resources that are simply beyond the capacity of any single validator.
  • Coordination is a sign of maturity. Increased coordination between validators is a feature, not a bug of PoS. It means that the validator ecosystem in a chain is mature enough to coordinate and take responsibility for that chain.
  • Members are free to vote how they like. IRL political parties in well-functioning democracies are alliances between like-minded activists, not machines that force their members to vote the party line. The Commons will never force their delegates to vote a certain way.
  • Learn from existing political systems. Political parties have existed since the time of Plato, and they show up in almost every democracy for a reason. If we want to improve blockchain governance, we should be willing to learn and experiment.
1 Like

im not saying that its a bad proposal or that there is any better way to make the governance/proposal validator coordination process better.
but the centralization risk in the cosmos is more so based on validators across numerous app chains that treat the market cap across all chains as the same honey pot. taking advantage of app chains they validate with large treasuries or other preferable parameters to collectively restructure chains through governance to move markets and aggregate liquidity.
where treasuries are drained to finance validator “incentive alignment” and bootstrapping LSD LPs on other app chains

I dont know how to structure disclosure requirements able to satisfy the level of trust demanded by atom 2.0 or PTMP, but until validators that do vote, vote in a way that benefits the chain and delegators the proposal is native to rather than validators, robust investment seems like a hard sell.

I would probably vote for it, i dont ramble on to spread any conspiracy theories or make accusations, just self reporting my perception and concerns with recent governance.

its not like you are asking for 10mmATOM to be minted out of thin air to pay off, i mean “incentive align” validators.

1 Like

Hi Joshua,

I think you’re definitely on to something here. I am familiar with some of your previous blockchain governance research, and would vouch for the quality of that. Some thoughts and questions:

  1. I think sharing tools and research is a great idea in general.
  2. Would you care to elaborate on how these “proposal juries” would operate in practice?
  3. Again, I think leveraging the strengths of collective efforts is a great idea, but how do you see this peer-review system working in more detail? Is the purpose essentially to provide feedback on proposals through an “expert” panel of sorts?
  4. More research is most definitely needed, but what would determine the focus of this research? If the Cosmos community is providing the funds, shouldn’t it also have a say in what gets researched (within the strengths of the research group, of course)?

Thanks for your contribution!

1 Like

Been saying since the first ever public governance call. Would love to see someone commit to creating a committee that actually goes around users and collects feedback, not the other way around. Governance should be from down up and strive to become horizontal. Just saying =)

2 Likes

Thank you! <3

Would you care to elaborate on how these “proposal juries” would operate in practice?

Here’s exactly how we plan on running the next versions! Validator Jury Design - Google Docs

Again, I think leveraging the strengths of collective efforts is a great idea, but how do you see this peer-review system working in more detail? Is the purpose essentially to provide feedback on proposals through an “expert” panel of sorts?

The peer review system is about reviewing a validator’s practices (especially governance practices), not about reviewing proposals! I think this system still needs to go through a few cycles. We trialed it and spun up an easychair instance but in practice it’s too costly to run on every validator (and then to keep updated). I think a peer review system could be more useful on edge-cases (e.g. suspicion of some sort of bad activity), on demand by specific validators or chains, or for other use-cases.

More research is most definitely needed, but what would determine the focus of this research? If the Cosmos community is providing the funds, shouldn’t it also have a say in what gets researched (within the strengths of the research group, of course)?

The focus of this research would be on governance inside the Hub. The community can definitely provide feedback on the direction—I mean, the Hub community is largely the validators, which are the ones we want to be directing + leading on the research.

2 Likes

Right - Again, I think the general idea of this is great, just needs to be worked out in more detail.

Just thinking out loud here, but could you maybe turn the peer-review system around, in the sense that you instead impose/incentivize/encourage some sort of “downstream deliberation” where validators submit useful/relevant information along the lines of what you’d check through the peer-review system you’re suggesting? As a way to provide transparency (perhaps even coupled with some voting-to-exclude mechanism to promote “good governance”) to the rest of the community (i.e., “the citizens” to use democratic lingo). That way you can kind of keep the balance of letting “the experts” manage governance (which is generally technical and complex) while keeping check on power imbalances/concentration.

1 Like

Hmm interesting, so in this version, you’d collect “tips” or reviews on a given validator through a wide funnel, which then serves as part of the material for a peer review? That makes a lot of sense.

I pulled together some of the current documentation and proposals for the peer review system here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1fFURLIlOb7EeUSvLt4DggNR7ZCoBQ4PeVuBRFzibB30/edit# please do feel free to edit/suggest, it’s meant to be an open ecosystem initiative!

Another unpopular opinion (I seem to be very good with these)…

Im curious as to why everyone thinks they can fix governance by centralizing certain processes of that governance. The whole idea of DAOs is about collective consensus. Read - wisdom of the crowd. So, unpopular opinion. IMHO, ya wanna fix governance - lets decentralize the process.

Look, here’s roughly how I’m thinking about this: decentralised governance on blockchain is technically complex, part of why it can be difficult for “ordinary” participants to sometimes take part/contribute to governance (including myself). And so, to echo the supposed ethos of crypto re transparency/decentralisation, key governance players have a responsibility to be upfront with what they’re doing and how they arrive at decisions etc. I mean, as a delegate wanting to attract delegation, you’re kind of incentivised to do so, right? Hence why I called it ‘downstream deliberation’: because open deliberation, while necessary at large, also has its limitations, especially if knowledge varies a lot re complex technical topics. So, we want to keep governance non-restrictive/inclusive but at the same time leverage the expertise and specialised knowledge within the community as efficiently as possible. Downstream deliberation would thus involve communicating actions clearly and in plain English, so to speak, hence keeping the non-technical users unable to follow certain complex debates up to speed. And so while certain “expert committees/councils/working groups” etc might form to leverage expertise (and should be rewarded for their vital contributions), their influence should come with the responsibility they ought to have re “the citizenry”, who in turn should hold adequate power / checks-and-balances to keep it democratic etc. Bit of a ramble but would happily continue this discussion.

And so to answer your question: Yes, you could do that. Perhaps set up some form of social capital/reputation system based on how cooperative/engaged validators are in this review-process. After all, if a validator doesn’t take the process and idea of transparency seriously, then that should tell you something.

@serejandmyself - Ideally we’re all onboard on the mission towards further decentralisation and all that the space supposedly stands for. At the same time there’s no straightforward path to this, and even if there was, full decentralisation may actually not be desirable for reasons related to coordination/coherence, complex governing potentially counteracting other gains or potentially even reducing transparency and accountability. Clearly we want to try and avoid the problems of irl politics, abuses of power etc etc. But it’s a trial and error process over a significant time horizon. I don’t think the central question is so much about making a choice between either centralisation or decentralisation, but rather finding democratic and effective ways of making the two work together.

2 Likes

Regarding the path of true decentralisation; a lot of people actually don’t even care. So we have to ask ourselves if we want to chase a dream which is not shared by the majority of people… We see in current governance nowadays that a lot of people simply do not vote, no matter how important or trivial a proposal is or how difficult or easy the voting process is.

So all in all we have to define what we are aiming for, but also how we should go there. And at this point in time a lot of validators are not even taking the effort to vote. So having some kind of body of engaged validators who are giving some kind of insight on a proposal might be a step in the right direction.

2 Likes